Editor of axed magazine has employment tribunal delayed as publisher attempts to sue him

The founding editor of axed architectural magazine Cornerstone has had his employment tribunal delayed as the title’s former publisher attempts to sue him.

Robin Stummer is claiming unfair dismissal by charity the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), which published Cornerstone until last July.

But an employment judge has delayed the tribunal judgement so that it can be considered alongside action the charity is taking against Stummer.

The former editor told Press Gazette he “will not be backing down in any way” despite the financial implications.

In November last year the former editor was issued with a “bizarre” writ, in which he learnt he was being sued for unlimited damages by the charity.

SPAB is also attempting to force him to close down Cornerstone’s website – www.robinstummer.net – and its Facebook page.

In addition, the High Court claim form requests that the former editor “deliver up” all Cornerstone material – including articles and thousands of photographs. This would prevent him from publishing it himself under the Cornerstone name.

He said he is being sued by the charity because he outsourced work without requiring journalists to hand over the copyright to the charity. He says the pictures belong to journalists.

Stummer said: “The implications for journalists, if the claim is successful, are quite stark: watch out if you ever ask a fellow journalist to do any work for your publication, since your proprietor might suddenly decide to sue you.”

Stummer was last week told SPAB had been successful in its bid to ‘stay’ his tribunal and  combine it with the charity’s legal claims against him.

Judge Prichard said that although there is a “potential prejudice” to Stummer, “it seems to me that all issues can most safely be decided by the High Court and they should be untrammeled and not embarrassed by those issues having been extensively debated in the Employment Tribunal first, before an Employment Judge.”

He added that he “sympathises” that Stummer “will be suffering financially with the delay that this stay is bound to cause”.

The charity has spent thousands of pounds on the action and Stummer, still a paying member of SPAB, is in part funding action against himself.

Press Gazette understands the Charity Commission has received a complaint against the charity but will be taking no further action.

Stummer compared the situation to a recent case involving the RSPCA, which spent hundreds of thousands of pounds (according to the Telegraph) on prosecuting members of the David Cameron’s local hunt.

The Charity Commission said the animal charity should only prosecute hunts if it is a “reasonable and effective use of the charity’s resources”. 

The charity now publishes a new quarterly title, but Stummer believes Cornerstone’s axing is a big loss, particularly in the debate over plans for high speed trains in the UK.

"Ceasing to publish Cornerstone ended by far the most detailed investigative reporting on the threat to heritage and historic landscapes posed by the HS2 scheme,” he said.

“As well as myself, two reporters and a photographer, John Lawrence, worked on this. Cornerstone broke the story of HS2's threat to heritage sites and buildings, and with much ‘muddy boots’ reporting gained a true picture of the problem – one of the largest single threats to old buildings, communities and sites since the war.

“Last spring, Cornerstone's coverage was picked up in Parliament, and by the national press. We identified dozens of sites and buildings at risk, and spoke with people all along the route. We found that there was very much in the line's 'danger zone' which has still not been assessed adequately, as is a planning requirement.

“It's bizarre that the magazine is no longer around to report on the route's extensions north from Birmingham."

SPAB director Matthew Slocombe said he did not think it would be appropriate to comment.

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